Archive for August, 2007

The Open Road

Dateline: Somewhereopen road storm ahead in the Deep South

I am writing this dispatch from  a dark room within a seedy hotel just off  of Shrimp Boat Lane in the low country town of Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina.  Through the grimy windows I can see the booms of the shrimp boats swaying above the saw grass and palmettos as they wind their way down Shem’s Creek towards the open sea.

Actually the room ain’t that bad. I am taking a little vacation down South so I don’t expect to be posting much over the next week. I’ll be looking for blues, barbecue and beer (with a shrimp or two tossed on in for good measure.)

One thing of interest; I am extremely impressed with today’s new automotive technology.  My wife’s van must have some sort of virtual voice hardware that I didn’t know about. It persistently communicates important information to the driver,  including warnings, using what sounds like a woman’s voice. The voice is so realistic that you’d swear that the person speaking was right in the car with you. 

Occasionally I would here things like; “Chris, you are going 80 miles per hour” or  “Chris, you are drifting into the next lane” or “The current speed  limit is 65” or “You’re following that car too closely“. Utterly amazing.

There was a design flaw, however, that results in the driver (at least this particular one) paying little or no attention to the warnings. The robotic voice they chose sounds an awful lot like my wife’s!  They’ll  have to get that fixed.

(I wonder how the car knew my name?)



Evangelize Through Intimacy, not Intimidation

hands shakingThere was a training course offered today at work called “Nonviolent Crisis Intervention“. It was designed to assist the school’s staff on ways to avert a crisis and then de-escalate the situation.

It was an excellent class presented by an excellent teacher. He taught that in order to successfully modify someone’s aggressive behavior it is important to remember that our first goal is to win them over to our way thinking. I found this interesting in that much of what he taught was similar to what I had learned over years in business. A couple of things in particular stood out;

When it comes to managing people (family, students, mean teachcustomers, employees, church members etc) we will rarely be successful in trying to exert our will over the other person. We need to understand where that person is coming from, how they see things differently than we do and even if they comprehend the immediate situation. “There is no reality for us other than that of the customer’s perception” is something we used to say in the restaurant business.

Once we understand their state of mind we need to convey our empathy. They need to see something of themselves in us and to do this we need to see something of ourselves in them.  To try and change their perception by imposing our authority is likely to end up with us driving them farther away. Before our authority can hold any validity (outside of inciting fear, which is not a lasting means of behavior management) they must be able to relate to us in some fashion. There needs be a point of recognition that they can identify with. This is difficult to do if we continue to take the high ground and insist upon certain behaviors merely because our given ‘authority’ can justify it. The great number of violent political revolutions would support this.

Often, in response to given direction someone will ask a question that can easily be mistaken as being irrational and provocative. Our teacher today gave an example:

Suppose we see a child (in this case a student) drop a potato chip on the floor and do nothing about it. We ask the child to pick up the chip and his or her response is; “Why should I?” Most of us would probably see this as being disrespectful and designed to provoke a negative response on our part. But there is a very good chance that this is an honest question. What if the child has been reared in a home in which no one is expected to pick up food when they drop it? What if the examples that they have been given have created this learned response on their part? (I have worked with new cooks who were flabbergasted when I would request they clean behind themselves. That had always been someone else’s responsibility.) So the tenor of our response is very important here.

It is important that the child (or anyone else), rather than having to face the typical imperiousness of adults, be made to understand that we will take their questions and concerns on face value and address them openly and honestly. This begins to lay the groundwork for mutual trust, a groundwork that is sturdy enough to last the distance and hopefully avert future problems.

There is a good lesson here, particularly in how we ‘evangelize’ (‘evangel’ [eu-angel] from the Greek to mean ‘good messenger’ ). It’s not surprising that we are less than successful when we tell people that our words are ‘right’ because they come from the Bible. Or that a particular way of living is desirable because of how God ‘wants’ it. Few seem to be afraid  of the hell fire and damnation that some of the converted find so convincing. The religious stick of punishment seems to hold little allure for someone with such different world views than our own. In fact, because it is often lacking in empathy and respect, there is a good chance that it will turn them in the other direction. Their questions and comments, so often seen as inlfammatory and disrespectuf to us and of God,  are likely to be legitimate and rational. To angrily respond to them from a position  of alien authority is irrational on our part.

street monger

But what of God’s sovereignty? Compared to what God wants to say, does it  matter very much what we want to hear? Well, perhaps not. But the Bible seems to suggest that we will be more comfortable with the message when we are comfortable with the messenger. It is no accident that Jesus is the most perfect persuader for God.

We are familiar with the Old Testament stories of people primarily seeing God as fearful, adjudicating, wrathful and punishing. We have the analogies of God as a parent, having to hurt us in order to help us. There is God as the benevolent dictator, requiring righteous behavior and punishing the unrighteous because anything else would be unfair, unbalanced and unjust. The history of the Bible consistently presents  this fearful, authoritarian image of God. It also reaveals that, as a persuasive tactic, it has been terribly unsuccessful. With all the intimidating language, the chosen people usually chose something other than God’s way.

This tactic was so unsuccessful that a totally different course of action was employed. The message of God, his Word, took on flesh as Jesus, a mortal man that we could relate to – as opposed to a God we never really could. The means by which Jesus conveyed this message was done in a way that allowed us to figure it out for ourselves, discovering it in our own individual ways. We have been invited to come closer, learning the lesson in terms we can understand,  worked out through our relationship with Jesus. He shows us how to ‘love’ the lesson, not only because he is the lesson but because he allows us to find the unique way it works for us. He permits us to see some of ourselves in him and then, hopefully, others will see some of him in us.

Jesus does not try forcing us to obey him by invoking his authority, an authority that God has certainly given him. Through weakness and brokeness he attracts those who do not respond to well to threats and intimidation.  Which happens to be just about all of us.

jesus beckons


The Architects of Fear (Our Drug Prohibitionists)

architects of fearThere is an old “Outer Limits” episode called “The Architects of Fear” in which some scientists decide on taking drastic measures in an attempt to prevent the Cold War from erupting into nuclear holocaust. They choose one of their own, played by Robert Culp, to undergo an experimental genetic mutation that results in his transformation into a hideous alien being. A crash landing of his ’space ship’ near the UN is staged , the idea being that he would then engage in such mischief as to create a world wide panic over alien invasion. This would hopefully encourage the warring factions to put aside their differences and unite behind one common cause; the defense of the Earth.This is not a novel idea, but merely a creative Sci-Fi spin on what demagogues and tyrants have known for so very long; It is much easier to control your subjects by giving them a common enemy than it is to maintain a constantly high level of coercion and oppression. People throughout history have proven themselves to be easy pawns at the hands of master propagandists.

The Jewish Holocaust during World War II is the classic example at how unwitting dupes can be conditioned to perpetrate atrocities, just so long as the trains run on time. Many of the Nazi’s may have actually believed their imbecilic theories of a master race and the sub humanity of the Jews, but plenty of them (Albert Speer for one) felt that it was an unfortunate but necessary situation, expedient for the success of the German state. Though this despicable period in history is perhaps the nadir of ‘civilization’ it is certainly not unique.

Thank God this kind of thing can’t happen in America. But of course it can happen and it has happened. American power brokers, both private and political, have used the xenophobic tendencies of our citizens to justify stealing land from the Native American nations while simultaneously increasing their own power base. Many a politician was able to capitalize on the racial bigotry of white Americans as well as the mindless fear brought on by ignorance and propaganda, to advance their own agendas.

“But we are more enlightened now and it is obvious that these examples of fascist demagoguery are far behind us. ” I would disagree. For years now there has been a class of people that have generated such fear among our populace that our police forces have been encouraged to grow dramatically (especially the secret police), that writs of habeas corpus have been suspended and we have willingly sacrificed our protections against unlawful search and seizure. Mandatory and draconian punishments have been eagerly pursued and implemented and even convicted children are imprisoned for many years with no chance of parole. Who are these dangerous people?

In spite of the obvious excesses of the neo-Orwellian “Office of Homeland Security”, I am not talking about Islamic fundamentalists. No, these much more sinister people do not belong to an easily identifiable religion or political group nor do they consist of any singular ethnicity. They can be found at all levels of society, in all cities and towns and in most neighborhoods. In fact, I think some of these subversives may be my best friends!

I am talking about Dopers. Heads. Stoners. Tokers. Pot Heads. Kids and adults who either occasionally or regularly partake of cannabis to enjoy a sensation that is pleasurable, not unlike that of alcohol but with much more humility, much less violence and much less hangover.

Since the ‘War on Drugs’ there are more cops on the street, more people in prison and much more crime in our cities. Our country more closely resembles a police state than the old Warsaw Pact nations do. We have 19 year old kids doing mandatory 10 year sentences with no chance of parole because they were caught with LSD. Not guns, not knives, not low yield nuclear weapons. Acid.

We have parents who have had their cars seized and impounded by the local sheriff’s department because there was a joint found within. These legally stolen cars have proven to be a financial windfall for the state. What a great incentive for additional low risk police work!

There are more anti-drug laws on the books in the USA than there are in Holland yet our per capita drug consumption is higher. (As is our violent crime rate). We have even blithely ignored international law and invaded countries because of the excuse that they are exporters of illegal narcotics. Well then, what’s stopping us from attacking Canada?

The more laws and order are made prominent, the more thieves and robbers there will be. (Lao-Tzu)

I don’t want to clutter things up right now with too many examples of government excess in fighting this conjured up and hyped up “War on Drugs”. Check out what the (very conservative) Cato institute has to say instead:

…or this article by Larry Levine:

But I would suggest this; after all these years we still have this prohibition on drugs, this attempt to legislate morality, this ‘tyro-anarchy’, because it benefits people in power. It allows the government, both local and Federal , to consolidate power, to deprive people of due process, to ensure continued lucrative employment and to provide a scapegoat for social injustice that allows our self righteous citizenry to dodge their responsibility. As we sit back on a Sunday afternoon, enjoying our Budweisers and gin’n’tonics we can feel safe knowing that our tax dollars are at work providing today’s Elliott Ness with the means of protecting us from the likes of….Spikoli?  From Ridgemont High? Makes me feel much safer, dude.

History has taught us that prohibition does not work. Unfortunately there are too many piglets fighting for their place at one of the many anti- drug enforcement teats to ever expect this country to come to their senses.

“Scarecrows and magic and other fatal fears do not bring people closer together. There is no magic substitute for soft caring and hard work, for self-respect and mutual love. If we can learn this from the mistake these frightened men made, then their mistake will not have been merely grotesque. It will have been at least a lesson—a lesson at last to be learned’

(from the closing narration; “The Architects of Fear”)


I Have a New Article on TheOoze

Some of you may remember the story about Sherri, one of God’s itinerant workers and how we met one day in Western Maryland. She’s the lady that has devoted her life to spreading the Gospel across this country on the back of a bike.  TheOoze has decided to publish this story and it comes out today; “The Apostle Sherri: Bicycle Disciple”. Please check it out on:

If you’ve never visited that web site I think you’ll be pleased with what you find there.

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Angry People (The Lost Art of Reasoned Debate)

angry moeI’ve got to admit that I have been pretty pleased with the conversations we’ve been having here on Sharp Iron. The comments have been generally thoughtful, sometimes amusing and occasionally absurd but for the most part they have been good natured and polite.

I find that this is usually not the case when people disagree over issues having to do with religion, politics , the environment and morality. Especially when it comes to blogging. People with opposing points of view tend to meet each other like Cape Buffalo, not at all like the open minded and respectable folk I am sure they see themselves as.

A common thread, that runs through what now has taken the place of intelligent discourse, appears to be self-righteous anger. Lately I’ve read a lot of spiteful invective on some websites that are devoted to atheist apologetics. Don’t misunderstand me, it’s not that every atheist I’ve argued with tends toward using insulting and demeaning language towards theists, but it certainly is prevalent. From both sides of the debate, ridicule would appear to be the order of the day. Few seem to be listening to what anyone else has to say, most are too busy sharpening their next barb. As a Christian it may seem easy to explain away such behavior, citing the atheist’s lack of enlightenment and their slavish devotion to personal pride as sufficient cause. But I don’t remember being so angry when I was an atheist and feel that this opinion is a very patronizing one.

Besides, the theists, particularly the Christians, seem to be just as angry. Whether you are visiting a fundamentalist Christian site or one frequented by those more ‘sophisticated’ liberals, the air is thick with venomous words. Mean spirited remarks are the norm and little meaningful discourse is invited, most dissenters having been run off by the local mob. More interesting here is that the Bible is very specific in it’s condemnation of inhospitable behavior, as well as the self indulgent addiction we call anger. “I’m telling you that anyone who is so much as angry with a brother or sister is guilty of murder” (Matthew 5:22). Perhaps the problem is with how some people define brother or sister.

It would seem to me that this type of anger is indicative of a lack of confidence in a stated opinion, an unwillingness to give an inch, out of fear that once any ground is given then a total rout is inevitable. If someone is so sure of their position, confident in holding the moral or intellectual high ground, then it would make sense that all comers would be welcome. Instead we encounter numerous bastions of like-minded people, clannish environments in which the threat of dissent is thoroughly squashed, not with superior arguments but with insult and ridicule. By refusing to respect those who disagree with them they lose any respect they ever owned.

This angry response to those who would dare argue with them provides little means of converting others to their way of thinking, instead providing ample rhetorical ammunition for potential opponents. Dallas Willard writes about anger in “The Divine Conspiracy”;

“It is a feeling that seizes us in our body and immediately impels us toward interfering with, and possibly even harming, those who have thwarted our will and interfered with our life.”

Anger is frequently used in attempts to force others to change their positions. Even when apparently successful it never enlists opponents as allies, no matter how reluctant. Instead the seeds of resentment are planted, breeding its own harvest of anger. And so the cycle goes.

“All our mental and emotional resources are marshaled to nurture and tend the anger, and our body throbs with it. Energy is dedicated to keeping the anger alive: we constantly remind ourselves of how wrongly we have been treated. And when it is allowed to govern our actions, of course, its evil is quickly multiplied in heart-rending consequences and in the replication of anger and rage in the hearts and bodies of everyone it touches.”

We learn by meeting, and respectfully engaging with, those who see things differently than we do. No matter how different the opinion, no matter how absurd it may seem to us, if presented thoughtfully and respectfully, then it deserves our hospitality.


Just One Day in Jesus’ Life?

 jesus ministry

I was listening to Woodrow Kroll on the radio today and something he said made me think. He was giving a little sermon on how we need to step out of our comfort zones when we evangelize.  He talked of a day in the life of Jesus, in this case a day as related to us by Mark in his first chapter, verses 14-45.  In this 24 hour period Jesus recruited Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John, taught at the synogogue in Capernaum, exorcised an evil spirit there, visited Simon Peter’s home and healed his mother in law, then went out and healed many people from the town. The next morning he got up before dawn and prayed in solitude.  Afterwards he travelled through out the Galilee region, healing the sick and exorcising many demons, eventually healing one particular man of leprosy.

Kroll’s point here (and I think it is a good one) is that even Jesus, in order to do his work, needed to spend some time alone with God the Father.  How else could he, as a man, have made it through such a grueling schedule? And if we are sure to ‘recharge’ our spiritual batteries with some one-on-one time with God, then we too can accomplish much more than we could ever imagine.

But is it realistic to believe that Jesus accomplished all of these things in one day?  I think it is likely that what we have here is an example of poetic license. Each gospel version must be a condensed account of what actually happened,  winnowing down the events of Jesus’ ministry into vignettes that are easy to digest and share with others.  In this example from Mark. almost all the major points of Jesus’ ministry are covered in one particular “day”.

Of course it could’ve happened precisely as written, but what of all the other days contained within the one to three years  of Jesus ministry?  Was every day filled to the brim with miracles and preaching, a whirlwind of activity? Or were there brief periods of intensity seperated by long  interludes? We do not know because the gospel accounts leave a lot of Jesus’ time unaccounted for. 

 My point is this; we do not need to accept the telling of the Gospels as 100% accurate in their descriptions to understand and accept the teachings of Jesus. This is why we can have such apparent discrepencies between the four Gospels and still see each of them as true and believable.


Brian McLaren on the Iraq Problem

Over on Sojourner’s Blog,  Brian McLaren has made a good suggestion:

In his July 20 commentary, James W. Skillen of the Center for Public Justice struck a non-partisan note of honesty and balance that I wish I heard more often.

He summarized the basic narrative of the Iraq War that both our president and his party and many Democrats seem to share:

… first, America liberated Iraq from Saddam Hussein; second, we returned sovereignty to the Iraqi people; third, sectarian violence tragically increased; and now, in the fourth phase, we are “deploying reinforcements and launching new operations to help Iraqis bring security to their people.”

The elegant word Skillen chooses to describe this narrative is “delusional.”

He counters:

U.S. forces did not liberate Iraq; they wiped out its government, and the Bush administration then failed to exercise American responsibility to govern the country so it could be rebuilt and eventually governed by Iraqis themselves. We opened the floodgates to chaos, civil war, the death or flight of tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians, and a continuing influx of terrorists whom our ‘war’ was supposed to destroy. That is not liberation.

He follows with a withering critique of both the “stay the course” proposal of the executive branch and the quick withdrawal plans increasingly popular in Congress. Both lines of reasoning, he says, lay the blame for our dilemma on “the nearly powerless Iraqi government for not climbing out fast enough from the hole we dug for it.” We may well criticize the Iraqi government for taking a long summer vacation in the midst of its crisis, but that doesn’t negate our culpability for them being in this particular crisis in the first place.

He chooses another elegant word to describe a nation that creates a crisis and then blames the victims for it: “immoral.”

Delusional and immoral are strong words. Whether you believe the invasion was an ill-conceived and badly-planned mistake or you believe that the invasion was justifiable but the problems have been in the execution, either way, we’re in a mess. We need a way out.

A friend of mine says that we’re only as sick as our reactivity. If our reactivity to Sept. 11 played a part in getting us into this terrible situation, we will not be well served by reacting to the status quo with still more reactive behavior.

For those of us who supported the war, and for those of us who opposed it but failed to stand up and speak up strongly enough, this is not a time for reactive behavior. It’s an opportunity, as Senator Obama recently said, to be as in careful planning our next steps as we were careless in planning our steps in the past. With more foresight and forethought, with less blame-gaming and partisanship and more deliberate collaboration, we can take the next steps—whatever they will be—with more honor, intelligence, sanity, and responsibility, and less reactivity than we have employed so far. Voices like Skillens’ can slow us down to indulge in second and third thoughts, perhaps breaking the cycle of unwise and destructive reactivity into which we have plunged the Iraqis and ourselves.

Brian McLaren ( serves as board chair for Sojourners/Call to Renewal. His next book, Everything Must Change: Jesus, Global Crises, and a Revolution of Hope, will be released in October.


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